Office of Planning and Budgeting

Supreme Court Hears Arguments in Research Patent Case

On Monday, the Supreme Court heard oral arguments for Stanford University v. Roche Molecular Systems et al.. At issue is whether the Supreme Court will agree with the argument made by research institutions to expand the current interpretation of what is known as the Bayh-Dole Act (1980’s University and Small Business Patent Procedures Act), which requires that royalties received from patents awarded based on federally funded research are retained by universities and used to fund research, education, and payments to inventors.

The case originated as a dispute between Stanford University and Roche, a company that required a Stanford researcher to sign a consultant agreement  containing language regarding patent rights (“do hereby assign”) that was stronger than the language contained in the Stanford contract he had signed a year earlier  (“I agree to assign”). Stanford sued Roche in 2005 after they refused requests to acquire a license to Stanford’s patents relating to the researcher’s work.  A federal district court initially ruled in Stanford’s favor, but that ruling was overturned by a federal appeals court, which determined that the Roche contract language  superseded the Stanford contract language, giving Roche a rightful patent claim.

While universities can be more careful with contract language going forward, a Supreme Court decision in favor of Roche could call  into question decades of patents that have provided billions of dollars in royalties to institutions. At the urging of the President and Justice Department, the Supreme Court agreed to hear the case. In addition to the support of the Obama administration, many institutions and organizations have filed amicus briefs. Notably, former Senator Birch Bayh, co-sponsor of the Bayh-Dole Act in question, filed his own amicus brief emphasizing that the federal legislation was never meant to allow ambiguity about whether universities had exclusive rights to patents generated by federal funded research.

Monday’s oral arguments provided no clear indication of how they might rule in the case. A decision is expected by July.


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